Half of all UK adults have experienced imposter syndrome

New research from training and apprenticeships provider Executive Development Network shows half of all UK adults have experienced imposter syndrome and reveals what factors make you more susceptible.

The research, which surveyed 5,000 individuals from different demographic groups, found that while imposter syndrome is common, some groups suffer more than others.  

54% of women feel they have experienced imposter syndrome, compared to just 38% of men. However, people who identify as non-binary are the worst impacted of all genders, with 57% doubting their abilities in the workplace.

The research found that a person’s sexual orientation also impacts their experience. Bisexual (69%), queer (68%) and homosexual (57%) individuals were significantly more likely to experience imposter syndrome than average (50%).

Both Gen Z (66%) and Millennials (58%) were much more likely to have experienced imposter syndrome than Gen X (41%) and over 59s (25%).  

Of the 50% of those surveyed who have experienced imposter syndrome, almost three quarters (72%) feel it has held them back at work and 43% have experienced it at least once a week. 

People who are high achieving before entering the workplace seem to suffer more, as the higher the level of education gained, the more likely an individual is to have experienced imposter syndrome: only a third (33%) of people educated to a secondary education level reported having experienced those feelings, compared to 62% of those with PhDs.  

The job sector that you work in has the biggest impact on your chances of experiencing imposter syndrome.  

The jobs with the highest levels of imposter syndrome are: 

  • Science and pharmaceuticals (78%)  
  • Marketing, advertising and PR (72%) 
  • Recruitment and HR (67%) 
  • Information research and analysis (67%) 
  • Publishing and journalism (64%) 

The jobs with the lowest levels of people reporting imposter syndrome were: 

  • Property and construction (29%) 
  • Transport and logistics (31%) 
  • Engineering and manufacturing (39%) 
  • Retail (44%) 
  • Environment and agriculture (45%)

Feelings of imposter syndrome manifest in a number of ways. 30% of adults often doubt themselves and their contributions whilst at work, while 61% are worried about making a mistake.

The top five triggers of imposter syndrome were found to be:

  • Comparing oneself with other people at work (53%)  
  • Working on a high-pressure project (37%)  
  • After receiving negative feedback (35%)  
  • Getting a new job (35%)  
  • Giving a speech/ presentation (27%) 

Even with the high prevalence of workers reporting feeling like an imposter, it is clear that individuals feel isolated, and that their managers and colleagues were unlikely to suffer from it. 

Over a third (36%) assumed their manager rarely or never experienced imposter syndrome, while a quarter (26%) said they didn’t know.

Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings said: “This research highlights just how widespread of an issue imposter syndrome is and the need for more conversations around it. I strongly agree with the 59% that say there should be better education and training on imposter syndrome in the workplace.

“The research identifies some of the techniques and situations that help combat feelings of imposter syndrome, like receiving positive feedback from managers and colleagues and setting realistic expectations.

“However, there is a clear pattern that alongside these techniques, individuals would benefit from various forms of more formal training, including leadership, communication and coaching skills.

“Businesses can equip their employees with these soft skills to create supportive and cohesive teams that are more confident and feel empowered in their jobs.” 

Jill Whittaker, CEO of Executive Development Network, added: “My takeaway from this research is that there is a huge inclusivity issue here in the UK. Women, non-binary people and non-heterosexual orientated people are far more likely to experience a condition that the majority of people agree can hold you back from progressing at work. 

“With fewer diverse individuals reaching leadership roles compared to their male or heterosexual counterparts, these issues will continue to be amplified. 

“Businesses need to empower their whole workforce with training to make sure everyone is confident to work to their full ability and feel confident doing so.

“One of the most interesting parts of the research is that over a third (41%) of individuals would find leadership and management training helpful to combat feelings of imposter syndrome, but a similar level (40%) are not comfortable asking for training in the workplace.

“It’s up to employers to recognise this issue and ensure they are providing the correct training. This will help create “confidence ambassadors” in their teams so that imposter syndrome can be tackled together.”

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